Will you be leaving too?
Jesus was a popular figure in his day, especially among the hungry, the lame, the blind, the unclean, and the despairing. Enough so that among the privileged classes it was both a jealousy for their own standing and a fear of the unruly crowds that led them to crucify Jesus. Yet at one point—as reported in John 6—even the devoted crowds abandoned Jesus. That shift invites a bit of reflection because it speaks to our own worlds. In John 6 we find the summary of Jesus feeding the five thousand.
The crowds—possibly led by Zealots, an anti-Roman party of the day—began to stir a recruitment campaign in order to make Jesus their figurehead king. Jesus would have nothing to do with it and quietly withdrew from the scene. The next day the crowds migrated to the location where Jesus was staying, to Capernaum, and started to press the issue again.
What did they want from him?
A program of daily public feedings! This was an expectation they felt they could demand of a divinely empowered leader because it was what Moses in the wilderness journey had done centuries before—he (actually God, but Moses was his spokesman) supplied the people with daily bread for year after year (verses 31-32). This was a happy prospect for a crowd familiar with subsistence living!
Jesus, again, would have nothing to do with it:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Here we have a question for our own hearts and for the church at large. What motivates us as we come to Jesus? Is it for our personal welfare? For the benefits he offers us? For the security of a benign but distant benefactor?
Jesus went on as he confronted his utilitarian followers:
“Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give unto you.” He then presented himself—the whole person—as the proper object of our deepest appetites. We’re invited into a wholly devoted relationship, a relationship we describe as a loving devotion. At the end of that conversation the crowds left Jesus in droves.
The abandonment was so striking that Jesus even asked the twelve apostles, “will you be leaving too?”
They stayed with him, of course, but his ministry was never the same numerically. The cost was too great: he called for a personal response and devotion, not a pragmatic engagement. He offered food for the heart, not food for the body.
The question for us to reflect on, then, is this: what defines our own deepest diet? Some self-defined benefits; or a Christ-captured hunger for more of what he offers us in himself?
Any thoughts? You are invited to comment on Ron’s article at Cor Deo
Dr. Ron Frost
Ron served on faculty for more than 20 years at Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary. At the seminary, from 1995-2007, he was professor of historical theology and ethics. He earned his PhD at King’s College of the University of London. His research featured Richard Sibbes (1577-1635). He now teaches internationally while serving as a pastoral care consultant to missionaries with Barnabas International. Ron authored Discover the Power of the Bible and writes on spreadinggoodness.org [See “Resources”].